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Expert Answers You Need About FAFSA Delay Concerns: Part 1

In this two-part series, our experts answer your questions about FAFSA delays and the state of your college financial aid for the 2024–2025 academic year.

Everyone is wondering the same thing this year: Why is the FAFSA so delayed and what does it mean for college students this fall? The timeline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is delayed because the US Department of Education has been working for several years on making the financial aid form shorter and easier to complete for most students and parents—but that doesn’t mean everything has gone to plan. Due to many unforeseen circumstances with the release of the revised application, the subsequent processing of documents and data delivery to colleges and universities has fallen behind, leaving many students and parents frustrated and wondering about the state of their financial aid packages for the upcoming academic year.

CollegeXpress has teamed up with some of our in-house financial aid experts at our parent company, Carnegie, to answer some of your top questions about this year’s FAFSA situation to the best of their knowledge. In part one, we’re discussing the expected timeline of financial aid package notifications, plus what to do if you’re concerned about the status of your submitted FAFSA. At the end of the article, you’ll find a link to part two to learn more about how the delays will impact scholarships and grants as well as some advice on making your final college decision and other highly specific circumstances.

Asking about financial aid package notifications

When will we receive notifications and details regarding our FAFSA financial aid packages, including processing timelines, approved amounts, and potential delays impacting the receipt of aid offer letters from colleges?

We know it has been frustrating for students and parents to do their part by completing the FAFSA but not have timely access to award information. Trust us, admission and financial aid offices at colleges and universities are just as frustrated because providing this information accurately and on time to you is how they meet their enrollment goals. Colleges just started receiving FAFSA information from the US Department of Education around mid-March, but unfortunately, they’re receiving only very limited numbers of FAFSA data records.

In addition, institutions typically have complex software systems that receive and process FAFSA information and calculate student financial aid eligibility—all of which need to be updated and tested to make sure everything is running smoothly. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, schools have been dealing with errors in student records sent by the FAFSA, and taking the time to correct these errors is delaying the process further. The software testing to avoid errors like these normally happens in October or November—long before financial aid packages are communicated—but because of the FAFSA delays this year, institutions are testing and fixing things on a much shorter timeline. As a result, federal financial aid will not be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis this year as it has in the past. When it comes to knowing when you’ll have more information about your financial aid, there are a few different types of aid that might have different timelines:

  • Merit scholarships: You may already have been notified of any merit scholarships you’re eligible for since many institutions use only the information provided in your college applications to determine eligibility, and they communicate those scholarship decisions either in your admission letter or separately. Each institution differs, so be sure to check the school’s admission and aid web pages to see notification timelines for scholarships and see if you missed an email. 
  • Institutional need-based aid: Some colleges also offer need-based grants to admitted students, and this is often based on your FAFSA information. This type of aid notification is more likely to be delayed, although some institutions have tried to communicate estimated need-based aid offers to students. If this type of aid is available, you would probably have received an email offering you the opportunity to complete a form or request an estimate. (Check your spam folders!)
  • Federal and state need-based aid: Eligibility for federal student aid like Pell Grants, Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, and state grants depends on information from the FAFSA. Colleges and universities will do their best to give you this information as soon as possible—some are even trying to provide estimates for this type of aid as well. 

Should I get in contact with my college’s financial aid office?

Most of the colleges and universities that we work with are hopeful they will have full financial aid packages (including all types of aid) communicated to students and parents by mid-April, but they can only process the information as quickly as they receive it from the Department of Education. The faster they receive FAFSA records, the faster they can process them, address any errors, and give you the information you need to make your decision.

Institutions will not have complete information on all FAFSAs until at least several weeks from now. They are working hard to be ready to receive and process FAFSA information and communicate aid offers as soon as possible, so you may be lucky in getting yours soon but try to be patient if you’re not. If you have a question about a specific institution’s timeline, we recommend reviewing their admission and aid websites and contacting them directly by email or phone.

Related: Understanding (and Maximizing) Your College Financial Aid Package

Wondering about your financial aid application status

How can I verify the completion status of my FAFSA and ensure all necessary steps are taken, including submission to my college(s) and addressing any delays or technical issues affecting the process and confirmation timeline?

Unless the college(s) you’re submitting financial aid forms to specifically request more information (in which case, you’ll hear from them most likely by email), you don’t need to send anything to a school regarding the FAFSA and the status of its submission. The information you submitted as part of the FAFSA will automatically be provided to the college in the form of a record called an Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR)—these are the documents the Department of Education just started making available to institutions earlier this month. For trouble submitting your application or other technical issues related to the FAFSA, use the 2024–2025 FAFSA Help page to resolve the issue(s) as soon as you can to ensure your forms are submitted. Unfortunately, until colleges and universities receive the FAFSA data from the Department of Education, financial aid offices at those institutions will not be able to directly assist you with any corrections or troubleshooting. 

How can I make updates or corrections on my FAFSA, and what impact will this have on processing time and potential delays? Can I add or modify schools after submission even if my FAFSA is under review?

When you complete the FAFSA, you’ll be given the opportunity to indicate the schools you wish to receive your information. Make sure you’re following the Federal Student Aid Office’s specific instructions that apply to the 2024–2025 FAFSA since the process has changed from prior years. The new online form allows up to 20 school codes to be submitted; if you’re adding a new school code, make sure you remove any schools you no longer need to send information to if you’re no longer interested in attending. The ability to make certain updates or corrections to a submitted and processed 2024–2025 FAFSA form is limited for now, according to the Department of Education as of mid-March 2024—but they do report that you’ll have the ability "in the first half of April" (previously reported as “later in March.”)

Related: The Best Advice and Resources for Filling Out the FAFSA

We hope this has helped you better understand the state of this year’s FAFSA situation. When you get frustrated, try to keep in mind that everyone is in the same boat, and you will have answers eventually. It may not be the smoothest process this year, but you still have a bright future ahead of you!

Now that you know a little more about the timeline of FAFSA delays, get more of your questions about scholarships, grants, loans, and more answered in part two of our series.

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